En route to a 51-21 record in the West, five games better than Milwaukee’s 46-26 in the East, the Suns swept two Bucks thrillers in the regular season, winning 125-124 at home on February 24. 10 and 128-127 in overtime in Milwaukee on April 19.
Due to having the best record in the regular season, the Suns will have the home court advantage in the series. Phoenix was ranked second in the West, Milwaukee third in the East.
The teams have met once in the playoffs before, when the Bucks were a club in the Western Conference. Sixth seed, Milwaukee defeated third seeded Phoenix 2-0 in that best of three rounds series of 1978.
He was not in his game, shooting just 4 for 17 overall and 0 for 6 on 3 points en route to 14 points and nine assists.
Milwaukee left little doubt, straddling Middleton’s 32 points and Holiday’s 27 for a second straight win after the Hawks rallied to tie the series at 2-2.
Like they did in the first quarter, when they took a 15-4 lead, the Bucks used a push early in the third period to build themselves a double-digit lead. Middleton did all the scoring.
After Clint Capela brought the Hawks down to 47-45 in the first minute of the second half, Middleton took over, scoring 3 consecutive runs and a pair of deuces that sandwiched a three-point game for a personal race of 13 points and a lead of 15 points.
He hadn’t finished. The All-Star forward then followed Young’s layup with another 3-point pointer, giving him 16 straight points for Milwaukee and the Bucks a 63-47 advantage.
With Holiday shelling in three three-pointers to him, the lead was 91-72 by the end of the quarter and the Bucks were packing their summer clothes for a trip to Phoenix.
Coming 20 behind with 9:31 to go, the Hawks made a desperate run behind a pair of 3-point Cam Reddish to come close to 107-101 with 3:23 to go.
But Holiday blocked the rally with a layup 18 seconds later, Middleton dropped a pair of free throws and the Hawks never came close to seven after that.
Brook Lopez (13), Pat Connaughton (13), Bobby Portis (12) and Jeff Teague (11) also scored in double digits for the Bucks, who edged the Hawks 46.1% to 41.3%.
Reddish had 21 points and Bogdan Bogdanovic 20 to pace the Hawks, who have never made the NBA Finals since moving to Atlanta.
John Collins had a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double for Atlanta, while Capela added 14 points and Danilo Gallinari 13.
The Bucks never hung out in the first half after scoring 15 of the game’s first 19 points. The 11-point lead was their biggest of the first 24 minutes, which ended with a 47-43 lead in Milwaukee.
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